FGD: Big Smoke

They call Toronto the Big Smoke for whatever reason, and the Maple Leafs will blow through Calgary tonight for their second of two meetings this season with the Calgary Flames (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).  It’s not like Toronto is on fire however, entering action tonight with losses in their last three games while the Flames look to continue a five game point streak.

Some decent news for Calgary came on Monday night, I guess.  Instead of getting two points, the Phoenix Coyotes just got one, ensuring that Calgary will not be moving into a playoff spot regardless of result against Toronto.  Somehow the Flames are getting wins and points, and somehow is really the best way I can describe it.  With their lineup right now, I don’t know how, but they’re doing it and it’s keeping them in this thing.

The Lineup

Another day, another injury for the Calgary Flames who will be without Mikael Backlund four to six weeks.  That makes it two centers injured in consecutive games, with Blair Jones getting injured on Thursday before Backlund’s upper body ailment was suffered on Saturday.  Calgary’s group of centers right now is tough to be confident in, although moving Mike Cammalleri to the middle is something that might help in that regard.

Alex Tanguay-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Tom Kostopoulos-Mike Cammalleri-Blake Comeau
Krys Kolanos-Roman Horak-Lance Bouma
Paul Byron-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman

Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich

The good news surrounds the blueline, as they’re fairly healthy right now with an impending return of Derek Smith next month.  Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net tonight.

The Opponent

Thanks to a Washington loss to San Jose on Monday night, the Maple Leafs remain the eighth place team in the Eastern Conference, a spot which is right around where they should probably sit.  Their early season results that had them near the top of the conference was far too lofty a target to stay on pace for.  The two largest questions surrounding this team now surround the future of a few certain players and if the goaltending situation is going to solidify.

On the trade front, it seems like GM Brian Burke is chasing a top six forward to compliment his two big guns in Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.  With the offensive struggles of Nikolai Kulemin a year after a 30 goal season are helping fuel that speculation, and a decently deep blueline lead many to believe he’ll deal from a position of strength.  As for goaltending, neither James Reimer nor Jonas Gustavsson have been consistent enough for Head Coach Ron Wilson.  Reimer is the better option, and his .929 even strength save percentage speaks to that, but the feeling is consistency is the biggest issue with both tenders.  It sounds like Gustavsson gets the start tonight.

Joffrey Lupul-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur-Mikhail Grabovski-Tim Connolly
Joey Crabb-Matthew Lombardi-Nikolai Kulemin
Darryl Boyce-David Steckel-Mike Brown/Colby Armstrong

Dion Phaneuf-Mike Komisarek
John-Michael Liles-Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner-Luke Schenn

Komisarek slots in in place of Carl Gunnarsson, who will miss at least a week with a lower body injury suffered yesterday at practice.  Keith Aulie, a former Flames pick, was recalled but looks not to play tonight.  Those pairings may change.  If the rumors surrounding Grabovski being on the trade market are true, it’s kind of dumb, because he’s still the best center on the team.

The Story

The largest storyline for me has nothing to do with the matchup tonight whatsoever.  It is about how the Flames have been able to get the job done over the past little while, especially knowing their injury situation.  I know "belief" is not a measureable metric, but I firmly believe it has a lot to do with what’s going on right now.  The team isn’t waivering from the way they need to play, and they’re picking up points and wins because of it.

  • Vintage Flame

    I think I would rather see Byron up on the 2nd line instead of TK.
    That combination just has disaster written all over it and a frustrating night for Cammalleri.

    Cross your fingers again tonight I guess.

      • Agree with Pat. In 26 AHL games this year Byron has 11 points (4g,7A) in spite of playing a lot on pp.

        If you can’t carry the mail at the AHL level you need to be sheltered at NHL level.

        I won’t mention it again but Hagman would be very helpful at this time and in this lineup.

      • Vintage Flame

        Big freakin deal. Half this team aren’t legit NHL’ers. It’s a MASH unit comprised from guys that couldn’t make the ‘Bad News Bears’… But I still fail to see what Kostopoulos offers the second line with Comeau and Cammalleri. If not Byron fine, hell, even Jackman would have been a better option than TK.

  • Vintage Flame

    Another variable for tonight’s game is that this will almost seem like a home game for Toronto. Just like when the Habs come, you’ll see 35-40% of those in attendance wearing Leaf attire.

    It makes for an interesting debate…trade deadline is 2 weeks away and we’re 3 points out. If we’re still at this point on the 27th, do we buy, sell or both? It’s hard to buy because we don’t have much to offer in return. It’s hard to sell because if we’re still around 9th only a few guys are available and there might not be much return for them. Do we move a piece to gain a piece that can be flipped for something more appealing? Do you stand pat hoping that healthy bodies in March are enough to boost us into the play-offs? We should see if Gaviscon is a traded comodity…NHL Gm’s are probably going through a ton of it right now!

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Does anybody think that Stajan will take the hint after this season and move to Europe?

    1st/2nd line centre $$ has got to be hard to pass up, but at some point pride and professionalism might kick in for a guy who’s been permanently demoted to the 4th line despite a glaring opening at centre on the 2nd and 3rd lines.

    Seriously dude, GTFO.

    • Vintage Flame

      I don’t think it will be necessary to move Matty Franchise to Europe. If there is an “Amnesty Period” coming in the next CBA like many think, than Matty’s contract will be at the top of the list for Calgary.

        • everton fc

          I hope VF doesn’t mind me doing this reply.

          Rumors are out that part of the next CBA will have a inclusion of an Amnesty Period where teams are allowed to buy-out a yet undetermined number of contracts without it counting against the salary cap.

          That’s the best summary I have, if VF has more details I hope he can provide them.

          • Vintage Flame

            Nope, that pretty much covers it. The NHL is rumoured to be looking at adopting something similar to the NBA’s Amnesty policy.

            You can read more about it here if you like.

            The way it works in the NBA, according to Wikipedia is like this…

            Under the new CBA, teams will be allowed to “amnesty” one player before the start of any season, as long as his current contract was signed during the 2005 CBA. The amnestied player is waived from the team; although the player’s former team remains obligated to pay his salary under the old contract (with a credit for any salary paid by a future team), that salary is no longer counted for purposes of the cap or luxury tax calculations. This provision can be used only once per team during the duration of the CBA, which lasts for 10 years with either side able to opt out in 2017.

          • Vintage Flame

            Nope, that pretty much covers it. The NHL is rumoured to be looking at adopting something similar to the NBA’s Amnesty policy.

            You can read more about it here if you like.

            The way it works in the NBA, according to Wikipedia is like this…

            Under the new CBA, teams will be allowed to “amnesty” one player before the start of any season, as long as his current contract was signed during the 2005 CBA. The amnestied player is waived from the team; although the player’s former team remains obligated to pay his salary under the old contract (with a credit for any salary paid by a future team), that salary is no longer counted for purposes of the cap or luxury tax calculations. This provision can be used only once per team during the duration of the CBA, which lasts for 10 years with either side able to opt out in 2017.

  • Vintage Flame

    Byron on the 4th line makes zero sense. TK should stay down there because that line has been effective all year long. Classic Flames move to put an offensive player in a checking role. Give the kid a chance to show what he’s good at.

  • Vintage Flame

    Perhaps the thinking is that there has to be at least one guy on each line doing the dirty work for the other two???? Dump the puck into TK or TJ’s corner and let those chase and hammer the D-men!

    Just pray that line 2 to 4 plays even and the #1 line pots a couple via ES and the PP, and Mighty Mikka holds the lafs to one goal.

  • NateBaldwin

    I assume that slotting kosto on the second line is an attempt to bring some size to the unit. Not that I think that that is the best solution, but I think that is the main reason for keeping byron off of that line.

    My hope for this game is that Vintage’s “abbey road” line puts up points and we look back at this game as the beginning of their third line dominance. Naturally we’ll make the playoffs because of thier outstanding play, and they’ll garner enough media interest to officially be named the “abbey road” line.

    That’s probably equally as likely as the flames making the playoffs this year anyway. That or cheering for the flames has finally made me delusional…

  • There’s no real solution for the second line. The Flames run out of legit NHL bodies (aside from Stajan) after Comeau. Jackman and Kostopolous are replacement level and everyone else probably isn’t.

    It’s ice ’em and pray at this point.

    • T&A4Flames

      I see no reason not to have Stajan centre the 2nd line. If he sucks, you can pretty much guarantee he won’t be any worse than the other options. If he does well, it may increase his value to the extent that he’s actually tradeable.

  • Vintage Flame

    Stajan has to be given the shot. The last shot.
    You need to try him with Iggy & Tanguay, they did have some success once a long time ago, time to see if Stajan can elevate his game for his career sake one last time. Ideally Joker/Comeau/Cammi & then 3rd line Bouma/Byron/Kolanos 4th Jackman/TKO/Horak.

    After that, light some candles & do whatever rituals you normally do to get us 2 points tonight.

  • everton fc

    Alex Tanguay-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla Tom Kostopoulos-Mike Cammalleri-Blake Comeau Krys Kolanos-Roman Horak-Lance Bouma Paul Byron-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman

    Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich

    Does this not look like the lineup for an expansion team?

    A few comments:

    I think Byron should be on the 4th line. Kosto is a veteran who knows how to play a role. He’s also physical, a gritty presence to protect the smallish Cammy, though to me, Kolanos seems the best fit w/Cammy and Comeau. (That’s how thin we truly are, hey?!) Byron is 5’7″, maybe wieghs 155 lbs, has not done much up here to impress, nor has he blown the doors off anyone in Abby. He’s a 4th line player in an injury-riddled situation like this. He’s an AHL player for certain, perhaps at best.

    He’s certainly no better than Nigel Dawes was when he was here. I honestly wish they had space to give Rheault a look. He’s earned it. And he can skate, and would do well in a 4th line role in this type of situation.

    I do find myself wondering how Stajan would do with Kolanos and Bouma. Or with Cammy and Comeau, with Kolanos as your 4th line centre.

    Doesn’t really matter, of course. Just thoughts…

    (Why is Grabovski on the trading block? On paper, the Leafs look thin down the middle, as well. ??)

  • everton fc

    Babchuk for Hannan.

    Again, Expansion Team!

    We’ve all got our ideas who’d be best where. Me, too. But give Brent credit – he’s been winning with this rag-tag bunch of afterthoughts…

    Att his stage of the season, how can you not trust him?

  • Vintage Flame

    I know this has been pointed out by many here at FN, but if the Flames can somehow survive the next 10 games or so, then they will get some very valuable pieces back in the lineup. I believe both Glencross and Stempniak are due back in early March, and possibly even Moss may be back around then. Derek Smith is also supposed to be back around them, and he brings some mobility to the back-end. All we can do is pray and hope that Kipper continues to play Vezina-esque, because he’s our only hope. Goaltending cures a lot of ills, so if Kipper plays well our lack of legit NHL forwards may be not quite as critical. At least we know that Kipper will keep us in every game.

    Watch as Kostopoulos goes out and has a multiple point game, and everyone claims him to be the answer…

  • PrairieStew

    Interesting banter.

    Agree that Kotso is up with Cammy to provide physical presence.

    Don’t be suprised to see Stajan’s line with Jackman and Byron treated more like a 3rd line and the Abby road crew gets the 6-8 minutes afforded the 4th unit. If Byron can add speed to that group you’ve got smash on one wing in Jackman and dash on the other.

    Agree that it is time to bring Babchuk back in. Pair him with Brodie in 3rd and 4th line situations and see if they can help the secondary scoring can kick in. Sarich has played well enough to move up to pair 2 with Gio.